The climbers taking on the El Capitan challenge.
Photograph: Headway East London

A group of brain injury survivors are aiming to scale the whopping 1,000-metre height of California’s famous El Capitan cliff face next week – from the relative safety of a climbing centre in Hackney.

The daredevils are taking on the challenge as part of the national Action for Brain Injury Week from 20-26 May, to raise money for much-loved local charity Headway East London.

Pledges have already reached over £500, but the climbers have set a target of £1,000 – a pound per metre.

On Wednesday 22 May, a team of staff and volunteers from Headway will travel to The Castle Climbing Centre in Stoke Newington, where they will take it in turns to reach their combined goal.

Yoki can’t wait to start the ascent.
Photograph: Headway East London

Headway’s climbing group has been using The Castle for the past few years to take advantage of the physical and mental benefits of the activity.

Brain injury survivor Yoki is one of those taking part in the El Capitan challenge, and she can’t wait to get going, especially as climbing is something she already enjoys.

She said: “Climbing helps me in every way. Physically, it helps me gain strength in my arms and develops my balance, but it also really helps with my mental stability too.

“It helps me to focus on one thing, I feel finally as if I’m getting somewhere, like I’m going forwards. When I’m climbing, nothing else exists.”

Yoki has been a part of the climbing group since its inception, despite her use of a wheelchair.

Another survivor and volunteer, Callum, says the activity puts everyone on an equal footing: “I like climbing because, ironically, it’s a level playing field. Everybody has their own ability and style.

“When you are part of a group, looking up at your friend and encouraging them, you learn how somebody with a completely different body to yours moves.

“Likewise, your friends, with all their different bodies, can look up and know what you need to hear. They can know your body too.

“My physical disabilities that alter my everyday life are translated; my impairments become my style on the wall.”

Headway currently runs a day service in Hackney, as well as support groups and outreach across 13 London boroughs.

But significant strains on councils’ social care budgets, membership fees have had no uplift in eight years, meaning Headway receives just 83 per cent of the cost towards each placement at the day service.

As a result, the charity relies on donations to meet the deficit – which is why sponsored challenges such as this are “crucial” to its continued existence.

Chief executive Anthony Bonfil said: “It’s down to the generosity of our supporters that we are able to continue raising vital funds to support survivors of brain injury across 13 London boroughs.

“We’d like to thank all our supporters, and the Headway Heroes, for helping us raise awareness of the work Headway East London does.”

To support the team’s epic challenge, head to its fundraising page

For more information about the charity, visit

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